JSU coach's focus: Identify a starting quarterback
by Al Muskewitz
Jun 27, 2013 | 3624 views |  0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Max Shortell passed for 1,162 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two seasons at Minnesota. (AP photo)
Max Shortell passed for 1,162 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two seasons at Minnesota. (AP photo)
JACKSONVILLE -- Of all the things Bill Clark has to get done before his first game as Jacksonville State's head coach, finding a starting quarterback ranks high on the list.

He would like to identify the leader of his new-look, fast-paced offense within the first two weeks of training camp and make sure a second guy is ready just in case.

The Gamecocks' quarterback position is the most unsettled it has been since the end of the 2007 season, just before the arrival of Ryan Perrilloux from LSU.

There are at least five candidates in the mix to replace graduated starter Marques Ivory, but only one with any appreciable Division I game experience and he's never taken a snap in a JSU uniform.

It is one of the more intriguing subplots of Clark's first preseason camp as a Division I head coach, but one he hopes to settle well in advance of the Aug. 31 opener at Alabama State.

"If you're basically saying it’s a four-week window (in camp), I think you’d like to have that starter two weeks before the game getting the dominant amount of reps," he said. "And with injury situations like they are today, if you’re crazy enough not to have a second guy ready, you’re crazy.

"We’re going to have two ready. Now, we’re not going to be (alternating series), but that second guy will play. How much, I can’t say, but you’re an injury away at that position from having a guy that runs your whole team. We’ve got to have two. Got to have two."

It would have been so much easier had 2012 backup Coty Blanchard returned, but he's gone off to play pro baseball and is done with football. Clark always planned for that possibility.

The most likely successor would seem to be 6-foot-6 transfer Max Shortell because of what former Gamecocks head coach Jack Crowe used to call playing equity. Shortell played in 13 games at Minnesota the previous two seasons, completing 91 of 170 passes for 1,162 yards and eight touchdowns, but he didn't arrive at JSU until after the Gamecocks completed spring practice.

"He's played in big games, he's older, and then you look at the physical attributes," Clark said. "He's a big kid, a strong kid, he's got a big arm. He is athletic, he's not just stuck in a pocket. That's what got us to him here with a chance to be the guy."

The other candidates are Kyle West, Eli Jenkins, Steven Coates and Jayce Barber, but the spring didn't do much to create separation there.

West, Coates and Barber, a true freshman who enrolled in December who Clark insists will be a “good player down the road," all had injury issues in the spring. Jenkins, a high school quarterback, was a defensive back last fall, but starred at quarterback in the spring game.

Only Coates has taken a snap from center in a real game for the Gamecocks, but Clark isn't automatically handing the keys to Shortell.

"We’ve got a short window of time to get him seen along with our guys we finished spring with and roll that together," Clark said. "I think we would be crazy to go in there and say he’s the guy. We just got him here. Even though we like all the things that got him here, we’re not going to unfairly take our guys and throw them out of the mix. We just have to do it (make a decision) quick. ... It's just a juggling act for us."

The presumptive pecking order when players report Aug. 1 will be Shortell first with West and Jenkins following, and then see if Coates is healthy enough to be a factor.

The job ultimately will go, Clark suggested, to the player who protects the ball best.

"You're going to go as that guy goes, and I say that without trying to put so much pressure on those guys," Clark said.

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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